‘Living’ Stankevich

Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich sat hunched at his desk at about 9 a.m. on a recent morning, perusing and signing paperwork. It was some of the only idle silence he would experience.

Within a half hour he had held discussions with two key administrators on numerous topics – from pending meetings to campus architecture to the UW System’s budget – involving millions of dollars, thousands of students and countless interests.

“That’s the fun thing with the job,” Levin-Stankevich said in his slow, measured manner of speaking, a grin creeping across his sturdy face. “There’s certainly no monotony here.”

Now in his second semester at UW-Eau Claire, by most accounts it’s that good-natured, thoughtful, yet candid attitude that characterizes the chancellor who introduced himself to the campus as “Dr. Brian.”

“You feel like you’re talking with a real person,” Student Senate President Chris Wagner said. “It’s nice to see that he’s human.”

Being human, the chancellor said, is important to him, even though “a certain level of decorum” can be part of the job.

“I don’t like to stand on formality,” he said. “It kind of gets in the way of people being themselves.”

Those people can include on any given day community leaders, legislators, personnel and students as the chancellor heads up both the university’s outward relations and internal administration.

“I would say he’s a really quick study and able to shift gears quickly,” said Mike Rindo, executive director of communications.

But the head administrator student leaders call genuine and colleagues consider deft said he was once an unsure student at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

“I did all sorts of things the studies say don’t do,” he said of his early undergraduate career, in which he “floundered” amongst aspirations of being a jock (he was on the hockey team for one semester) and slumping grades.

Levin-Stankevich found focus – which he said was the missing component – in his sophomore year, thanks to an inspiring professor.

Pursuing a passion for Russian history, he went on to study as a Fulbright scholar in the then Soviet Union in 1977 and teach at institutions of higher education before climbing the administrative ranks.

These days “floundering” isn’t a part of the agenda for the chancellor. But on a recent workday, a meeting about the implementation of new data software at the direction of the UW System certainly was.

The topic had close to 30 administrators, faculty and academic staff encircling the oval table openly concerned about everything from university efficiency to ease of course registration for students.

Though he listened intently, he also spoke up regularly, asking direct questions and simplifying others’ points out loud. He was prone to making side comments and jokes, drawing chuckles from the otherwise respectful, serious group.

“Why don’t we sell our system and make some money?” he said at one point after hearing that Eau Claire’s current system is the envy of other schools.

Behind him, a large window framed dozens of students crossing the footbridge over the Chippewa River in the distance.

Serving in the interest of such students, he said later, has been enjoyable so far, though he misses the closeness he had as an instructor and later as a hockey coach at Eastern Washington University, where he ultimately became interim president before coming to Eau Claire.

Because whatever the commitments and distractions of the day, he said, it’s the welfare of students and the university they attend that serve as the binding threads of what he does.

“We’ve got to leave this place better than we found it,” he said.